By Meyer Gorelick
A landmark piece of legislation, Bill SB-206, was signed into law on Sept. 30 by Governor Gavin Newsom allowing college athletes in California to sign endorsement deals and hire agents despite opposition from powerful state and national institutions..
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) that regulates all of the most high profile institutions across the United States, has waged a long, and until now, successful campaign against the payment of student-athletes. College sports is a 14 billion dollar industry, in which the NCAA earns around $1 billion each year.
Powerful universities including University of California, Berkeley, Stanford and the University of Southern California, who average over $100 million dollars in athletic revenue per year each, also lobbied against the measure according to The New York Times. In June, the NCAA president Mark Emmert, who made $2.9 million in 2017, threatened that California schools who act in accordance with NCAA rules could be fined and or barred from competitions.
“It’s a threat,” Newsom said to The New York Times. “I don’t necessarily take it to heart.”
There is skepticism over whether the NCAA can afford to bar California schools from competitions without severely hurting the quality of their product.
The chief labor source, on whose backs this multi billion-dollar industry has been built, are student-athletes, who have always been prohibited from profiting from their name or likeness, despite the huge profits they create. The only provisions for student-athletes are free tuition and room and board, as the NCAA judges their payment as a violation of amateurism.
“They exploit young people to their detriment for a profit, and it’s offensive,” State Senator Scott Wilk, a former trustee at a community college, said of the NCAA.
This is the first successful blow to the NCAA establishment. In 2016 the Supreme Court denied Ed O’Bannon’s appeal for financial compensation for student-athletes.
O’Bannon, a star forward for the UCLA Bruins 1995 NCAA national championship team, initially won an antitrust class action lawsuit in 2014, that was overturned in 2015 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Bill SB-206 is set to go into effect in 2023, giving California institutions time to adjust to wide sweeping changes. In the meantime, lawmakers in other states are preparing similar bills.
According to The New York Times, “legislators in Florida and Illinois filed bills of their own. Federal lawmakers, as well as officials in Colorado, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Washington State, have also signaled unease with the NCAA’s way of doing business. Even in states where college sports are prized passions, the association and its policies have gradually grown more alarming.”
Multiple high profile athletes and politicians voiced their support for the bill, including Lebron James and Bernie Sanders.
March Madness, which earns the NCAA around $900 million has featured athletes who couldn’t afford a square meal. Shabaz Napier, an NBA player who led the University of Connecticut Huskies to the 2014 NCAA national championship, told Fox News reporters in 2014 that he went to bed “starving” some nights during his college career.
There has been a long history of coaches or intermediaries in some cases paying athletes under the table in an effort to recruit them to certain programs. Schools and students have suffered penalties when caught, barring them from competition, and taking away titles and accolades.
This California law can bring compensation above board, as student-athletes will be able to receive the same benefits any other worker is entitled to: payment for their services.
One aspect of the bill relevant to City College is that the California law does not apply to community college athletes.